JUSTIFICATION AND SALVATION

T. PIERCE BROWN

Several times recently I have read statements something like this: “Justification and salvation are synonymous terms.” While not wanting to be “nit-picking,” I feel constrained to point out that this is not so. This may seem like a technicality not worth mentioning, but a Bible student, and especially a Bible teacher, not only needs to know what is the proper definition of Bible terms, but needs to know how to adequately and accurately communicate that knowledge in practical and understandable terms to his hearers or readers.

It is true that the terms “justification” and “salvation” may both refer to the same condition in a person in a given context. That is, when Paul said in Acts13:38, “that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins” and in verse 39, “And by him all that believe are justified from all things,” he was talking about the same condition. And such is true in many cases. But that does not mean the terms are synonymous. Let us illustrate that. The words “elder,” “presbyter,” “pastor,” “shepherd,” “bishop,” “overseer” all may refer in some contexts to the same person. That person is one to whom we usually refer as an “elder” in the Lord’s church. But the terms do not mean the same thing. That is, they are not synonyms. The terms “church,” “kingdom,” “vineyard,” “body,” “bride,” “sheepfold,” all may refer to the same group of saved persons who follow Jesus. But they do not all mean the same thing. They are not synonyms.

Such passages as the following should make it even more abundantly clear: Matthew11:19, “And wisdom is justified by her works.”  Luke7:29″And all the people when the heard, and all the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John.”  Surely, it does not take one with the wisdom of Solomon to understand that when they “justified God” they did not save God! When Jesus said in Luke 16:15. “And he said unto them, Ye are they that justify yourselves in the sight of men; but God knoweth your hearts,” he did not teach nor imply that when they justified themselves they were therefore saved!

The term “justification” simply means “to make or declare one to be right.” If the context is that in which a person is declared to be in a right relationship with God it often involves his being saved from his sins.

The Bible declares that Abraham was justified (declared to be just) when he offered his son on the altar (James2:21). This shows that “faith without works is dead,” and that faith was perfected by obedience (James2:20). Neither Moses, Paul nor James were talking about Abraham being saved from his past sins and being translated into a different kingdom or relationship as in the case of an alien sinner today. We have heard it discussed in such a way as to make it almost sound as if Abraham got forgiveness of his sins by offering Isaac on the altar! The impression may be left that up to that time Abraham was out of fellowship with God — as an alien sinner — and when he offered his son he was justified — forgiven, as a man is forgiven at the point of baptism! This is not so! A man was never forgiven either in the Old Testament or New by offering his son on the altar!

The real point is that each step along the way, Abraham was justified by faith. Note carefully: When all God required Abraham to do was trust, then Abraham stood in the right relationship with God (was justified) when he obeyed that command. When God required Abraham to act on his faith, his faith could not be reckoned unto him for righteousness until he acted.

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